Mr. Robert Storey

It frustrates me to no end when I see someone trying to force the gospel down another’s throat. A frontal attack will rarely work when you’re trying to change someone’s mind, whether in matters of practical daily life or in matters of eternal destiny. There is a better way, brothers.

I think that part of the problem lays in an “all or nothing” mentality. We think that if we do not convert them to the entirety of the faith in this one conversation that we have failed. But evangelization takes place in stages. We find places we agree and move forward from that point. We find the longings of their heart (and sometimes we even help them discover what they truly desire), and we show them that there is an answer.

To be converted, they need to discover two things. First, that the view of the world the Church proposes lines up with their experience of life and their basic assumptions about how the world is. Second, that Christ fills in all of the longings they have, and answers all the questions they cannot. But this is a slow process. Sometimes they don’t even know how they view the world or how they want it to be. Most modern men walk through their lives in a sort of unreflective daze. We are an unreflective generation. It is our duty as fellow men to draw them into reflection through conversation (preferably over beer and a cigar). Question why they act and speak the way they do, but always from a place of seeking to understand where they are, not from a place of seeking to fix all of their asinine points of view.

We start from common ground. Where can we agree? We move forward from there bringing them into deeper and fuller expressions of the Truth. We may have to start by looking for an objective moral claim, such as Mordo’s claims concerning the natural law in Doctor Strange. His character development throughout the movie is driven by his rigid moral code. If an interlocutor finds him sympathetic for this reason, it can start a discussion about where this natural law comes from. “Oh, you think it comes from the laws of physics. I think it comes from the creator and His design for creation.” Bada-bing, bada-boom… you can have a discussion about God. (And as a helpful hint: try not to actually eye roll no matter how ridiculous their ‘reasoning’).

It’s not quite that simple, but you get the idea.

God has written nature in such a way, and has written individual men in such various ways, that certain truths about the universe will resonate with each one of us. When we see these resonances in others, we can use those as a path for encounter with Truth itself.

This may take many conversations to get to the point of Truth, so don’t try to complete the job in one sitting. Instead, I think it is helpful to consider these earlier conversations as a type of pre-evangelization. When you solidify basic truths about the universe in their minds and hearts, you are setting the stage for God. So work on their understanding of the world first, and it will move them over time to an understanding of the necessity of God. Develop their understanding of their own desires, and they will come to see that the Judeo-Christian God fulfills their desire for what kind of God truly exists.

I think that film has a particular place in our culture as a tool for pre-evangelization. First, everyone loves a good movie. Since most of the culture will see the big blockbusters each year, by studying them we can discover basic truths which draw people in, and basic falsehoods that irritate everyone. I think a good example of an irritating falsehood is how in Game of Thrones, every character you love dies, especially if they are a good person. Ned, why did you have to go so soon? This angers off everyone who watches the show. Why? I say, because we have an innate feeling that good guys should win. I think that is why we keep watching. We are all waiting for the final battle when Jon Snow kicks some serious a**. We cannot drop the show until we see good triumph.

We can use these stories to point out basic assumptions about reality and reveal the desires of the heart. So find messages within media, try to penetrate deeply into these themes and compare them to Christian revelation, and get ready to praise and critique. (A helpful hint: if you are still unclear what I mean, take a look at Fr. Robert Barron’s youtube reviews of films, or listen to the Pint, Pipe, and Cross Podcast [that one is mine: shameless plug]).

After you have plunged in, discuss movies, books, songs, etc. with coworkers and friends.

Whether their viewpoint agrees or disagrees with the Church’s position, ask them why they think it is the way they think it is. This is really important: you need to listen to what they think, and ask them why. If they are not prepared with a why (if they merely have an intuition or impulsive reaction), then be prepared to draw it out with questioning. Be patient though; they may need time to do the work of thought. They may not be used to it, and I mean that in the least condescending way possible. As a culture we have done a poor job of teaching people the art of reflection. We were trained to answer simple questions, google more complex ones, and fix practical problems. Very rarely are we asked to consider meaning, and this is a whole different kind of thought. I know very intelligent people who are nearly incapable of answering questions of meaning, simply because they have not tried to since they were children. They are out of practice. They may need time to relearn this skill.

Only after asking for their viewpoint, actually listening to what they say, and trying to understand, you can tell them why you hold the position you do. Make sure this is a conversation, not a lecture. You are companions, not student and teacher. Trust in the power of God to change their heart and mind; you only need to open the door to conversation.

01 18 2017
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  • Carlos

    Great article, everyone who reads this should check out www.moralpremise.com. Dr. Stan Williams (a devout Catholic) has really dissected what makes a great film and how the natural law plays into our perception of movies. Very fascinating stuff.

  • Sometimes it's easier to talk about the spiritual dimensions of a story like the Lord of the Rings than it is to talk about Jesus, Peter and the Apostles or even Pope Francis. Interesting that you mention Dr. Strange. The concepts introduced in that story are from Eastern mysticism, but do carry (at least for me) the weight of the idea that our God created the vastness of the Cosmos and every dimension we see and do not see. Some may reach the 'end of the trail' in a religion or belief that somehow we transcend the physical/material world, mastering our own sense of a reality that is 'pure', whereas we Catholics don't rely on ourselves for transcendence, but in God the Father almighty, creator of the universe. That's a much better foundation to stand on than our own notions.